A former ‘London Transport’ bus mechanic who used to change brake shoes and linings  thought to be made with asbestos was diagnosed with mesothelioma more than forty years later. As in many mesothelioma cases, the cancer may take up to 50 years before asbestosis symptoms suddenly appear.

Almost always, the cancer has spread to a late stage of development and life expectancy is extremely limited. Two months after receiving the shock news, the former mechanic had passed away.

The mechanic’s widow is renewing her efforts to seek compensation from Transport for London and is appealing to former work colleagues to come forward with first-hand accounts of the working methods and conditions at the time.

Faced with difficulties

Spouses and family members who make an appeal for witness testimony can be faced with difficulties caused by the length of time that elapses since the initial exposures. In the present case, the victim was aged 19 when starting his apprenticeship as a bus mechanic in 1967 and left the company two years later. During this period (1963-1970), the authority running the buses in the capital was called London Transport, which eventually became Transport for London (TfL) in 2000.

In many mesothelioma claims, an original employer and /or their insurers may no longer be in business or was taken over and incorporated into a ‘parent’ company or a completely different firm. Invariably, the link from a former employee’s alleged exposure to asbestos and their subsequent mesothelioma will be disputed. In the present case, TfL say they have already investigated the evidence and deny that exposure to asbestos dust occurred during the young man’s employment with London Transport, as it was called at the time.

The widow argues that her late husband was only ever exposed to asbestos at London Transport when he was involved in the task of replacing the worn brake shoe parts and brushing the asbestos particles away while others “swept up the dust around him.” The apprentice had been issued a boiler suit but no protective breathing mask, a common practice across much of British industry during the middle decades of the 20th century.

Large amounts of asbestos material

It has been estimated that from 1940 onwards, a total of 5.3 million tonnes of brown, blue and white asbestos had been imported into the UK to be used as insulation in almost every industrial, construction and manufacturing process. Asbestos had been used in automobile brake pads and other friction products since cylinder brake linings were first developed in 1902.

Brake pads are made from five types of materials – binders, abrasives, performance, filler and structure. Up to 35 per cent of a brake lining product could contain asbestos fibres used to supply structural reinforcement and heat resistance. Continual abrasion releases microscopic asbestos fibres into the atmosphere and large amounts of asbestos material is trapped inside the brake housing or clutch space, which is then released when replacement or repair work is carried out.

Used for many applications

When the most toxic brown and blue asbestos types were banned in the mid 1980s, more than 37,600 tonnes of white asbestos was still being imported. The fibres were still allowed to be used for many applications, including brake pads and linings although were largely being phased out after the arrival of front-wheel drive vehicles in the 1980s.

More than thirty years after the first asbestos ban and fifteen years following the halt on white asbestos imports there are still a high number of mesothelioma cases reported today, which are the result of exposures that occurred in the years before 1980.

The number of deaths from industrial disease attributed to mesothelioma has risen in the UK almost four-fold in the last thirty years. Research conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2010 found that around 1 in 170 of all British men born in the 1940s will die of the fatal, incurable cancer.